Trends and technologies that are shaping the future of braille were the focus of the first Braille Summit, sponsored by NLS in collaboration with Perkins School for the Blind, on the Perkins campus in Watertown, Massachusetts, June 19–22, 2013. Approximately 100 practitioners—including librarians from the NLS network of cooperating libraries—educators, braille producers, transcribers, specialists, parents, and readers participated in the three-day conference.
“Braille is the major literacy tool used by blind individuals. We must ensure that it remains a viable and available option.”
— NLS director Karen Keninger
NLS director Karen Keninger explained that the goal of the summit was to encourage a national conversation on the state of braille as a literacy tool. “Braille is the major literacy tool used by blind individuals. We must ensure that it remains a viable and available option”—which was one of the priorities Keninger set when she began work at NLS last year.
“Now is a critical time to coordinate a strategy on how to advance braille and literacy for people who are blind for new generations of braille readers,” said Kim Charlson, director of the Perkins Braille and Talking Book Library and a co-coordinator of the event. “NLS demonstrated exemplary leadership in organizing a conference that allowed the community to provide valuable input on the future of braille.”
Steven Rothstein, president of Perkins, said, “Hosting the Braille Summit was a proud moment for Perkins, particularly at this pivotal time for braille in the United States and around the world.”
General topics of interest were:
- gathering population data from solid research on blindness;
- the unveiling of World Braille Usage, third edition, as an international index
- focusing on inclusive education for children who are blind and training more teachers to get that done;
- generating more creative ideas to promote braille and its key role in meaningful employment; and
- ongoing, energetic efforts to make braille technology affordable.
“Literacy through braille can flourish when we implement ideas presented at the summit,” Rothstein said.
Michael Yudin, acting assistant secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (SERS), Department of Education, emphasized the importance of preparing the next generation of blind and visually impaired individuals for the future. Reading from an official Dear Colleague letter, which informs, guides, and clarifies issues on U.S. educational policy, he reminded participants that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that children who are blind or visually impaired be taught braille.
“Braille instruction is necessary for them to receive a free, appropriate public education,” he read. “This requirement applies equally to children who need braille instruction when they enroll in kindergarten, as well as to children who will benefit from braille instruction because they face . . . future vision loss later on in their educational careers.”
The next steps, Keninger said, include producing a final report from the summit and then a strategic plan for the NLS braille program to bring braille into the twenty-first century.
Sixty years after the first edition was published, NLS and Perkins unveiled the third edition of World Braille Usage at the June 2013 Braille Summit. The revised publication documents the state of braille around the world, describing braille codes for 133 languages used across 142 countries, from South African Afrikaans to Nigerian Yoruba.
The first edition of World Braille Usage, published by UNESCO in 1953, sought to establish world braille uniformity. “But braille is continually evolving and shifting as geopolitical borders change and recognition of linguistic diversity improves,” said Judith Dixon, NLS consumer relations officer.
In recognition of this state of flux, Dixon and other NLS employees assisted UNESCO with the development of a second edition in 1990. The 2013 third edition, to which Dixon also contributed, makes updates reflecting, among other changes, the wider role that 8-dot code now plays.
“By supporting the standardization of braille, it provides a critical resource for promoting braille literacy—and thus advances a key NLS goal,” Dixon said.
The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) presented awards to libraries in the District of Columbia and Florida for outstanding service to blind and disabled readers during a luncheon ceremony June 6, 2013, in the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.
The District of Columbia Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (DCLBPH), also known as the D.C. Public Library Adaptive Services Division, received the ninth annual Network Library of the Year Award. The Brevard County Talking Books Library (BCTBL), a subregional library of the Florida Bureau of Braille and Talking Book Library Services network, received the seventh annual Network Subregional Library of the Year Award. Both awards came with a $1,000 cash prize and a framed certificate for each library and its parent agency. The libraries' names are engraved on a perpetual plaque displayed at NLS.
"Even in difficult budget times, the dedicated staffs of these libraries have found new and creative ways to make a positive difference in the lives of blind and disabled people in the District of Columbia and Brevard County, Florida," said NLS director Karen Keninger. "They are outstanding examples of the service the NLS network of libraries throughout the United States has provided for more than 80 years."
The DCLBPH is located in the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in downtown Washington. In 2012 the library served 856 individual patrons, institutions, and organizations; circulated 32,219 braille and talking books and other items; and had 200 volunteers who contributed 3,253 service hours.
"For years we have heard library users talk about how the staff and technology in our Adaptive Services Division has improved the quality of their lives," said Ginnie Cooper, chief librarian of the District of Columbia. "We are very proud to receive this honor because we take our commitment to serving all library users seriously."
Several times a year the DCLBPH hosts visitors from national and international organizations who come to Washington to learn about its adaptive technology programs. Adaptive Services chief Venetia V. Demson is the Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator for the D.C. public library system.
The library hosts a monthly Braille Book Club for Kids and an American Sign Language Story Hour. It partnered with other organizations to create an after-school program that gave blind and low-vision high school students the opportunity to explore careers and community resources, learn about adaptive technology, and more.
Also, along with the Prevention of Blindness Society of Metropolitan Washington, the library began a monthly support group for older adults with low vision.
The Brevard County Talking Books Library (BCTBL) is located in the Brevard County Public Library in Cocoa, Florida. It has a full-time staff of one—manager Debra Martin—a part-time support staff member, and a committed group of more than 25 volunteers. In 2012 the library served nearly 1,600 residents and institutions in Brevard County and circulated about 120,000 braille and talking books.
The library hosts adult reading programs, assistive technology resource fairs, and film and book discussion programs. It maintains partnerships with more than 150 agencies and keeps patrons and supporters informed through Twitter and Facebook.
"BCTBL volunteers are integral to the operation of the library and without doubt are one of the main reasons the library has flourished," Martin said. "Our partnerships have proven to be vital to increasing awareness of the program and boosting new patron registration."
Eleven South Korean legal professionals concerned with disability rights visited NLS on July 16, 2013, to learn how the United States provides library service to individuals who are blind or have a disability.
Welcoming the group, NLS director Karen Keninger noted that the braille and talking-book program was provided by law. "We are serious about our commitment to ensuring that people with visual impairments or disabilities are able to access reading materials."
During their two-hour visit, the law professors, lawyers, and judges learned about the history of the program, the national network of cooperating libraries that serves readers, selection of books and magazines, and audio equipment and online services.
The delegation, accompanied by four interpreters, was part of the U.S. Department of State's International Visitor Leadership project for South Korea. Called Disability Rights Promotion, the project was coordinated by the Meridian International Center for the purpose of sharing information about disability rights in the United States.
Specifically, the project objectives are to:
- Examine laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, and programs intended to improve the quality of life for individuals with disabilities
- Explore U.S. disability rights, including civil rights protections and equal-opportunity laws
- Observe the operations of legal-support systems for individuals with disabilities
- Learn about educational and promotional tools for people with disabilities
- Review advancements in sports, recreational, and physical-therapy programs that help to increase the participation of individuals with disabilities
The group visited various organizations in Washington, D.C., July 13–July 20. Its visit to NLS was arranged through the LC Visitor Services Office.
NLS should bring back longer annotations in Talking Book Topics, the NLS bimonthly magazine that lists recent audiobooks; update its minibibliographies and reference circulars; and add more materials that encourage the learning of braille, members of the Collection Development Advisory Group told NLS staff at the end of their three-day meeting this spring.
- Consumer Organization Representatives:
- Steve Speicher (American Council of the Blind)
- James Fleming (Blinded Veterans Association)
- David Hyde (National Federation of the Blind)
- Katherine Schneider (Midlands Conference)
- Stanley Greenberg (Northern Conference)
- Pamela Cox (Southern Conference)
- Robert Nazarenus (Western Conference)
- Richard Smith (Midlands Conference)
- Donna Calvert (Northern Conference)
- Ruth Hemphill (Southern Conference)
- John Mugford (Western Conference)
- Jessica Goodrich (Children's/Young Adult)
The Collection Development Section hosted the 2013 Collection Development Advisory Group (CDAG) meeting at NLS, May 22–24, 2013. The group, which represents librarians, consumer organizations, and NLS patrons, meets biannually to provide guidance to NLS in its collection development activities.
CDAG "helps NLS improve our collection even more," NLS director Karen Keninger said during opening remarks. "I think we have a good collection; I have been a borrower since age 7. But we have some exciting things coming up and we need your candid and forthright opinions."
Michael Katzmann, chief of the Materials Development Division, reiterated Keninger's sentiment and added, "We have several of the same issues and concerns that we have had in the past, but now must also contend with shrinking resources. NLS received a 5-percent budget cut and staff are required to take several furlough days. Regardless, we have exciting prospects this year."
Members of the group exchanged views on a wide range of topics and, in closing deliberations, shared with Keninger a preliminary summary of their recommendations.
Steve Speicher, group chairperson, said members would like to see titles organized by subject and the return of 50-word book descriptions in Talking Book Topics. "Our patrons are not fans of the one-line annotations" that began in the summer of 2012 in an effort to reduce a backlog of unannounced talking-book titles, he said.
Braille was a big topic of discussion for the group. "The braille collection policy shouldn't necessarily be the same as audio," Speicher said. "Braille simply does some things better for some people in some situations—following recipes, for example."
He added that materials that encourage the learning of braille, such as more titles in uncontracted braille, should be included in the collection. "We would also like a serious braille dictionary that could be downloaded and would work on electronic displays."
Edmund O'Reilly, head of the Collection Development Section and facilitator of the CDAG meeting, said he looked forward to reading the group's final report.
The Swiss National Association of and for the Blind, in collaboration with the Access for All foundation and the service provider xyMedia, has developed a PDF reader for visually impaired people. The VIP PDF-Reader for Windows, Mac, and Linux users may be downloaded, free of charge, at www.szb.ch/en/home.html.
The reader the text out of a PDF file and presents it in a user-friendly interface. Text can be enlarged and contrasted with the background, and line breaks are inserted automatically, so the text is always fitted to the size of the window. Information is displayed in order, with columns below rather than next to one another. Images, logos, graphics, and tables appear in the correct place in the form of icons and can be displayed in a separate full-screen window.
Mike Moore of the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services said, "The real innovation in this reader is that it allows the user to control font face, size, and color/contrast—three features that have not been available in other readers and are among the most frequently mentioned barriers to accessibility."
Deborah Toomey, head of the Network Service Section, retired in June 2013 after nearly forty years of service to readers dealing with blindness, visual impairments, or physical disabilities.
Toomey began her career with NLS in 1974 in what was unofficially known as the recataloging project.
"I thought that I'd like to be a children's librarian and applied for several jobs in that capacity. There was a recession on and jobs were hard to come by," said Toomey, who had received a master's degree in Library Science (MLS) at the University of Maryland, College Park, that year.
"I learned of a full-time temporary position at NLS—then the Division for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (DBPH)—from fellow MLS graduates and was delighted when the job came through. I reviewed the book collections and added MARC tags for data entry." The work led to the creation of the NLS International Union Catalog that is used today.
Soon after, Toomey became an assistant for the Resources Coordination Unit, where she was responsible for helping librarians in the NLS network locate books in accessible formats for patrons. "With no central catalog, we would have to search 12 separate sources before we could determine whether the book was available or not," she said.
Toomey left NLS headquarters in Washington in 1976 and spent the next decade working at libraries in several parts of the country, some of which were part of the NLS network. She started at the Florida Regional Library, where she worked for two years with Stephen Prine, now assistant chief of the Network Division.
"I left when my now ex-husband couldn't find library work," Toomey explained. "We moved to Georgia, where I got a job in Americus—Jimmy Carter's home library—when Carter was president. I catalogued the Jimmy Carter Collection of vertical files and ephemera."
In 1979, she became the subregional librarian in Albany, Georgia, and in 1982 the head of adult services at the New Jersey Library for the Blind and Handicapped, now the New Jersey Braille and Talking Book Library. In 1987, after the birth of her second child, she decided to take a couple of years off.
She returned to the workforce, eventually becoming the reference librarian in Reading, Pennsylvania, and later assistant director, then director, of the NLS network library in New Jersey.
While attending the 2000 NLS National Conference in California, Toomey met David Whittall, the machine-lending agent in Arizona. They dated for a year, married, then lived separately for a year as David became a network consultant in Washington and Deborah remained in New Jersey. "We decided whoever got a job first—he looked in Jersey and I in D.C.—would determine where we would live," she said. "I was very pleased to be hired again by NLS in 2003."
"I was lucky to be able to return to (NLS) each time I left it. My heart was always in it—and it still is." —Deborah Toomey
Toomey has been part of many exciting changes at NLS. She cites the transition from records to cassettes to digital cartridges and the development of both Web-Braille and the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) as major milestones of the program.
"The transition to cassettes was a real boon," Toomey said. "Books could be repaired simply by duplicating a damaged cassette and the collection of books available grew to more than 60,000 titles. The ability of patrons to get a book immediately through BARD is a fantastic improvement. This is changing the service in ways we are just beginning to imagine. It was very exciting to be at NLS as this was happening."
Her work provided her with many personal benefits as well. "Even when I was working as a librarian in other fields, I stayed informed about braille and talking books and in contact with so many wonderful librarians, many of whom I consider personal friends. And I was lucky to be able to return to the service each time I left it. My heart was always in it—and it still is."
Her retirement plans include travelling to Ireland, Norway, and Greece in the next couple of years, then raising chickens and canning and freezing what she grows in her garden at her and David's new home in Vermont.
"I was born in Vermont and hope to live here for the remainder of my life," she said. "After all, it took me 40 years to return!"
Ruth J. Nussbaum, retired NLS reference librarian, and Jill Lewis, retired director of the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (MDLBPH), an NLS network regional library, recently received Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA) awards.
ASCLA, a division of the American Library Association, selected Nussbaum for the 2013 Cathleen Bourdon Service Award and Lewis for the 2013 Francis Joseph Campbell Award.
The Cathleen Bourdon Service Award is presented to a member for exceptional service and sustained leadership to the division.
Nussbaum was a reference librarian at NLS from 1987 to 2012. An ASCLA member since 1990, she has been chair of the Librarians Serving Special Populations Section of ASCLA, a member of the Century Scholarship Committee, a representative to the board of directors, chair of the Francis Joseph Campbell Award Committee, a member of the awards committee, and representative to the board.
Nussbaum also served as an ALA councilor-at-large from 2004 to 2007 and has long been involved in the American Indian Library Association. She has made significant contributions to professional documents and guidelines, including accessibility policies for both ALA and ASCLA, factsheets, bibliographies, and other publications addressing library services for people with disabilities.
The Francis Joseph Campbell Award is presented to a library or person who has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of library service for the blind and physically handicapped.
Lewis was director of the MDLBPH from 2003 to 2012. Under her leadership, the library developed partnerships that provided a community center for library users with print disabilities. The center includes adaptive technology, cultural programs, and an interactive children's reading center. She previously worked as a reference librarian for NLS.
In 2012, Lewis was awarded the Distinguished Service Award from the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland and presented with a Governor's Citation for Outstanding Service. She has been active within ALA and ASCLA since the 1990s and serves on the board of the Montgomery County Public Library in Maryland.
Both women were presented their awards during the ALA 2013 Conference on June 29 in Chicago.
Judith Dixon, consumer relations officer for NLS, received the 2013 Volunteer Award at the annual meeting of National Braille Press (NBP), held June 18, 2013, in Boston. The organization noted Dixon's "steadfast devotion to NBP's mission as an NBP author, supporter, Touch of Genius Prize Committee member, and incisive advisor over three decades."
During her 32-year career with NLS, Dixon has become known internationally for her work pioneering and promoting accessible technology. In the late 1990s she developed Web-Braille—NLS's first effort to provide reading materials in a digital format directly to patrons. Web-Braille merged with BARD, the NLS Braille and Audio Reading Download service, in 2012. Dixon also has worked closely with NLS engineers to develop the BARD Mobile application for iOS and Android devices.
Dixon has served as the chair of the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) and as secretary of the International Council on English Braille (ICEB).
She helped forge BANA's decision last year to replace the English Braille American Edition code with Unified English Braille (UEB). She played a key role in the June 2013 NLS Braille Summit and has the world's largest collection of braille and tactile writing devices.
"It's very rewarding to volunteer for an organization like National Braille Press," Dixon said. "They want what we all want: greater braille literacy."
National Braille Press is a non-profit publisher that promotes braille literacy for blind children through outreach programs and provides access to information by producing information in braille for blind children and adults.